When I was stationed with the US Army in San Francisco in the mid-Seventies (during my “B.C.” days), I somehow became involved with this super rich married couple named Paul and Nancy. We met at Zach’s Restaurant and Bar in Sausalito one Sunday afternoon when Paul suddenly appeared at my table to ask me if I would mind sharing, as the place was packed and there was standing room only.
I immediately liked this couple, odd as they seemed. Paul, a 62-year-old short and squat lawyer, resembled Jabba The Hut; while his wife, Nancy, in contrast, was a tall, slender and gorgeous 28 year-old sporting a headband and doing her best to look like a Native American goddess. Nancy was his fourth wife. Her mother had been his third….
Anyway, that’s how it all started, and before I knew it, I was spending all my free time with this very strange, yet very fun couple. We were constantly going and doing, every single weekend. If we weren’t doing champagne brunches at expensive restaurants, then we were cruising the Bay Area in Paul’s yacht, or dancing or going to movies or sightseeing in one of their Rolls Royces, and hob-nobbing with doctors and TV producers and people with money. And sometimes we simply hung out in their gorgeous Penthouse overlooking the San Francisco Bay.
I never had to pay for a thing when I was with them. Paul was loaded and he didn’t mind throwing his money around. He also didn’t mind ordering people around as if they were his slaves – especially Nancy who, I soon discovered, was totally and completely submissive. He talked to her like a dog, sometimes, and I found it a little disconcerting that she never talked back.
In short, he was a total control freak. Of course, it didn’t work on me, but for some reason, he liked having me around, anyway. He once told me (and I remember laughing it off), “Shali, you’re ruined because you’re too independent. Someone should have gotten a hold of you when you were young and raised you properly!” (This, after I had told off Nancy’s brother-in-law who was a raving, hateful Neo-Nazi from Oregon, who came into town on business one weekend. Paul became upset because I refused to “date” the guy to “keep him company” while he was away from his wife…..) Suffice it to say, Paul quickly discovered that he couldn’t tell me what to do when it came to my personal life – although he constantly tried.
Regardless, feeling star struck and very privileged to be a part of this rich couple’s life, I remained blind – and, for a while, I honestly thought bumping into them at Zach’s was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I even began to day dream about getting out of the Army when my hitch was up, getting a job in San Francisco, and hanging out with them for the rest of my life. To me, they were the best friends I had ever had.
Reality began to set in a few months later, however, as I began to see that Nancy’s life was not exactly “a bowl of cherries.” The little twinge of jealousy I had initially felt for her lavish and seemingly carefree lifestyle, waned as time went on. It completely disintegrated when, one weekend while Paul was on a business trip in Chicago, she tearfully opened up to tell me about the prison that was her life.
As we were lounging in the luxury of their sunken living room surrounded by wall paper of pressed autumn leaves spattered with real gold flakes, Nancy suddenly blurted out that she envied me. I remember emitting a short and unfeminine snort as I gawked in disbelief. “You’re kidding!” I screeched. “You envy ME? Me, A little old Army sergeant bringing home $700 a month and living in a dump in San Rafael? Girl, I’m the one envying YOU!”
Her eyes filled with tears as she broke down and told me all about the hell that was her marriage. Paul, she said, was in the Mafia (which explained the picture of Marlon Brando’s face with scenes from “The Godfather” hanging over their fireplace), and that’s why he occasionally traveled to Chicago on business trips. “He treats me like property, Shali!” she cried. “He makes me do whatever he wants, whenever he wants … and I have to have sex with whomever he wishes, while he watches….”
Well, I was at once dumbstruck; confounded, terrified – in part, because I recognized that this new knowledge would jeopardize the fairy tale life I had been living with them … and in part, because I had always suspected there were some behind-the-scenes shenanigans going on. I just hadn’t known the gravity of the situation.
For a moment, I simply sat there, not knowing what to say; but finally, I managed to croak, “Why don’t you just leave him?”
“I can’t,” Nancy responded. “I’ve tried. He won’t let me. He always manages to find me because he sends private detectives after me. I once made it by bus all the way to Sacramento after a bad argument. He met me at the station and promised to buy me a new Rolls Royce if I gave him another chance. He always ‘buys’ me. It’s what he does. And when I tell him no, he becomes abusive. I can’t win.”
“…So, maybe you could try going through legal channels to get away from him?” I offered shakily.
“Shali, he will KILL me if I do that. Believe me when I say that, even if he were to end up with prison time, he will find me and kill me when he’s released. There’s no escaping him! There is no place on earth I can go to escape from Paul!”
I sat there, numb, as the reality sunk in that perhaps my own life was in jeopardy; and suffice it to say, that was the beginning of the end of my dreams for a future with these people and their decadent lifestyle. Suddenly - while I was perched there like that proverbial “bump on a log,” mind racing while staring at Nancy in disbelief - everything fell into place, and it dawned on me that I needed to remain on the path I was on. I was exactly where I needed to be: nurturing my Army career and being content in my own little world, without some jerk telling me what to do at every turn. The Army had been a safe haven for me, a way to get out from under the control of my horribly abusive parents after high school graduation, so I knew first-hand what Nancy was going through. I wasn’t about to put myself back under that kind of tyranny….
Of course, I kept Nancy’s secret, but over the course of the next few weeks, I slowly began to extricate myself from their life. The luxury, the decadence, the rich men Paul tried to set me up with – these things had all lost their luster. I had thoroughly learned the lesson that happiness doesn’t necessarily come from riches; it comes from within and from using some common sense to make life’s choices. It comes from being content with “enough.” Happiness was having a job, a roof over my head, food in my belly and learning to “bloom wherever I was planted.”
My complete extraction from this strange life that I had mistakenly viewed as a fairy tale, came a couple months later when I was transferred to Stuttgart, Germany - which I truly felt was a “God thing.” (And it really WAS, because, you see, looking back I now know that – unbeknownst to me in my “lukewarm toward God” state back in those days – YHWH was leading me from Point A to Point B and beyond in my walk; guiding and teaching me the whole time, until I finally arrived at Point Z, the day I “got saved” in a little Baptist church in Missouri, where He continued to lead me until I found my way to Torah….)
YHWH is so amazing! He truly does give us “as much as we can handle” (*1 Cor. 10:13) because, sometimes the ONLY way to truly learn something is through personal experience. We either learn and grow, or we don’t, and have to repeat the lumps on the noggin! Some advance; most stay behind because they don’t “hear” that “small, still voice.” I grew through my relationship with Paul and Nancy and myriad other relationships that YHWH put on my life’s path. Some were good, some bad, some are not worth mentioning. But in the end, all my combined experiences led me to find my way to YHWH/Yeshua/Torah! Halleluyah!
(I lost contact with Paul and Nancy over 40 years ago, but I often wondered whatever happened to poor Nancy. One day, approximately five years ago, I decided to Google their names, and discovered that Paul had died in 2007, which was when Nancy FINALLY managed to gain her freedom and move on with her life. (In his obituary she was still listed as his wife.) What a tragedy that she was stuck with that monster for over 30 years! I just pray that she, like me, found her way to our Creator, where TRUE shalom reigns.)